When I first head about the conflict between the Wisconsin GOP and the public employees' unions, I wan't terribly sympathetic to the unions. After all, employees of private companies like me had our benefits whittled away over the past few years, why should government employees be any different? I've read The Great Stagnation; don't these people realize that the gravy train has stopped, and we're all going to have to make do with less? Generous pensions and job security for teachers was great when we were all swimming in money, but things are different now. We just can't afford it.
Thinking about it (and reading about it) some more, the truth occurred to me. People like me and the public unions are fighting over scraps, and demonizing each other in the process. Meanwhile, the real villains are laughing their heads off, secure in their money. We're busy fighting over who get to have a 3% raise, while they're raking money in. And no, I don't believe it's because they're creating such great value for society. (Gives her more incentive to become a lawyer? Stunning ignorance of the real and social capital required to become a lawyer. And who says we need more lawyers?) It may be because they've made a large number of very safe bets that are backed by the rest of us.
Because I look around. I still see luxury cars on the road. I still see people living in huge houses. I still see folks sitting in the front rows of games and concerts. So I'm not positive that we're in such dire straits that it's necessary that we stop providing a decent retirement for public schoolteachers.
What we've done is accepted things going on. We've let Wall Street squeeze how we are treated as workers, so we've figured that's how workers ought to be treated. I don't have a pension; why should they? I live in fear of getting fired; they should, too! I have to fork over a big chunk of my paycheck for health insurance for my family; they ought to as well! Screw them!
But is this really what we want? Do we want a world where workers keep seeing their benefits eroded? And for whom? Who benefits? Do we really believe that if the Wisconsin GOP is successful, that the result will be better services for the poor? I'm skeptical.
This is the last stand in figuring out what kind of society we want to be. Do we want income inequality to continue unabated? Do we want the middle class to vanish? Do we want more and more resources to be funneled toward those who are already rich?
Or is there another way? That maybe "shared sacrifice" ought to include those who've been making out like bandits over the past dozen years while the rest of us have been treading water at best.
During the Tea Party rallies, I lamented that what gets people out on the streets protesting is the possibility of us paying for others' health care. And now, I lament that what gets people upset is a marginal erosion in the benefits for workers who will remain solidly in the middle class. Seems like there's some other injustices that ought to be higher on the list.
It just feels like we're fighting over a shrinking size of the pie, when we should be focussed on where the rest of the pie went.